Just a couple of weeks after the Texas House and Senate filed their base budgets, Gov. Greg Abbott has released his version—giving more clarity to his priorities for the session.
Passing a balanced budget is one of the Legislature’s only constitutional obligations. Last month, the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee released similar budget drafts giving the public a first look at the appropriations process.
While their budgets are full of dollars and cents, however, the governor’s is traditionally different. Instead, his document focuses on priorities, without listing specific spending amounts, to make Texas “healthier, safer, free, and more prosperous.”
Notably, his proposed budget priorities include tweaking last session’s marquee property tax reform bill. In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed legislation making it harder for taxing entities—such as cities and counties—to increase their property tax revenue above 3.5 percent without voter approval.
A provision included in that legislation, however, allowed cities and counties to increase property tax revenue up to 8 percent without voter approval if there was a declared disaster, which caused some local governments to exploit the statewide coronavirus disaster declaration.
Abbott says he wants that language to be clarified:
I recommend the 87th Legislature reform this provision of current law. The authority to exceed the voter-approval rate should only be available to cities, counties, and special districts that have suffered physical damage due to a disaster. I further recommend the 87th Legislature provide voters with the ability to ratify temporary property tax increases following a disaster before they become a permanent part of the tax burden going forward.
Abbott also gave clarity on one of the emergency priorities he announced earlier this week during his biennial State of the State Address that would work to prevent local cities from defunding police.
Specifically, Abbott wants to fund additional police officers in Austin using local tax revenue, after the city council voted to cut the police budget by one-third last year:
I recommend the 87th Legislature authorize the Capitol Complex Safety Zone to protect people and property and ensure local funds are made available to fund the effort.
Some items on Abbott’s budget priorities may give conservatives pause.
After the Legislature passed Senate Bill 11—a controversial mental health-monitoring legislation for students in 2019—Abbott says he wants the state to continue its commitment to the program.
Additionally, at a time when Texas families are struggling economically in light of coronavirus-related mandates, Abbott reaffirmed his commitment to corporate welfare programs, asking lawmakers to fully fund the Texas Enterprise Fund at $150 million, as well as maintain funding for music and film incentives.
Abbott’s full budget priorities may be viewed below: